Rationalizing Hillary’s Compromise is Not the Moral High Ground
There’s a common flavor among Hillary Clinton supporters who want to have their vote seen as the moral high road against Bernie Sanders, who they cast as “the idealist vote.” These are invariably Liberals (with a capital L) who have so long been socialized in a political environment where Not Republican = morality. To them, morality is voting for the best Democratic candidate and by best, they mean most electable.
Even if I weren’t a Bernie Sanders die-hard (which I unapologetically am), it’s hard to rationalize Hillary Clinton as a moral candidate. After all, Hillary Clinton admitted to deporting orphaned refugees at the border to send a message to warlords. She thanked Nancy Reagan for letting tens of thousands of AIDs victims die. She voted to drop bomb after bomb on brown kids across the world. She served as her husband’s political adviser when he killed welfare and then sent millions of black kids to hyperprison. You can say I’m biased, but her record is a cascade of decisions that weigh heavily on the American conscience forever going forward.
But of course, you can ignore all of this now because…enter Trump, the Immortan Joe of the Republican Party. His ideas and beliefs are so abhorrent, it’s plainly easy for most reasonable adults to recognize that he does not have the moral high ground. And the more comically evil he becomes, the more complacent Hillary supporters are simply being anti-Trump. They no longer even ask themselves why they are defending Hillary Clinton because, to them, the answer is so clear: she will beat the comically evil guy.
How could she not? She’s got the best political weaponry money can buy! She can carpet bomb him with ads. Haha, I’m making an obvious analogy about the American Establishment! Oh ho!
But when your base is stuck in a Cartesian binary of Trump versus Not Trump, you can get away with practically anything. If you’re not asking your candidate hard questions, you’ve learned to stop caring and love the bomb.
Which brings me to another point, which is “Bernie can’t get anything through a Republican Congress.” Let’s, as a thought experiment, assume Hillary could somehow get around being even more hated by the GOP than an overt Socialist. What is she going to get done if she’s already promising her capitulation? No we can’t raise the minimum wage to $15. No we can’t have nationalized healthcare. No we can’t expand the public education system to college. No we can’t. No we can’t. No we can’t. Why? Because Congress won’t let us. Because they won’t.
But again, here is a woman saying she won’t do what people want because the Republicans might block it. Hillary’s entire policy platform, then, is premised on a conditional — if she proposes this thing everyone wants, then the Republicans will block it. That might sound reasonable, even likely, but that doesn’t make her policy argument moral. It means she gave up before trying.
I understand why people think the Republicans are to blame for gridlock. They seem like the only other people in the room when policy gets made. Except they’re not. Take the passage of the Affordable Care Act, for example. Obama swept office with a huge mandate to implement universal healthcare. Over 80% of Democrats say they want universal healthcare. Not universal private insurance — nationalized nonprofit healthcare. So why didn’t we get universal healthcare? Not because of the Republicans. No, months before ACA even hit Congressional voting, Obama’s staff met with a series of lobbyists — Pharma, AMA, Insurers — to write the bill. (You can read about how it went down in Steven Brill’s book on the subject, America’s Bitter Pill.)
But because the Republicans could be relied upon to block anything a Black President does, it didn’t matter how conciliatory the bill was to lobbyists because the average American voter was only going to see Republicans being shitheads. No pundit was going to explain how the Pharma lobby overpowered any talk of negotiating drug prices at the national level. If the bill sucked — and it sucked long before it hit the floor — its suckage could be blamed on Republicans. And to this day, Hillary says the flaws of the ACA bill are attributable to Congressional gridlock and not the lobbyists who wrote the bill in the first place.
So why am I writing this? I’m writing this because Hillary supporters betray a very bizarre cognitive dissonance when they talk about their candidate. They want us to believe that Hillary, being heavily financed by Pharma and insurers, is not going to allow them to bias her thinking with regards to healthcare policy. They want us to believe that Hillary, being heavily financed by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, will be tough on Wall Street regulation. And from this bizarre position, they try to frame Bernie Sanders supporters as the idealists!
As if Bernie Sanders supporters aren’t policy analysts, sociologists and historians, having watched Hillary’s career with interest for the past 25 years. There are actually many fine books from the Left on the subject of Hillary’s decrepit morality. Allow me to briefly review a few:
- Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank — I’m about 25% into this book that was just published on Tuesday. But the first quarter of it goes over Bill Clinton’s rise as the leader of the DLC during the early 90’s. It delves thickly into how his policies pulled the party to the Right with disastrous consequences for America’s working poor. (You could also read What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, which I think further contextualizes the alienation workers felt during the Clinton Presidency.)
- My Turn by Doug Henwood — this short work covers how dangerous Hillary’s inevitability has been for American politics for the past 24 years.
- False Choices edited by Liza Featherstone — this collection of essays deconstructs Hillary’s problematic history as a candidate who professes to be a feminist but whose policies have been pretty straight garbage for the nation’s’ vulnerable since the start.
My concern during this election is the convenient refusal to think of political morality as as having a dimension outside of the Trump/Not Trump binary. This binary is pretty shallow, since Trump is a disgustingly low bar. I would much rather engage us on the Hillary/Bernie binary which is far more reflective of the moral debate that I, as a young social philosopher, am desperate for us to be having. If my concern is humanity, my concern is elevating the discourse to my level, not allowing myself to sink into that convenient binary that I know lets Democrats get away with some pretty deplorable shit.
I could go on for days about how steadfast Bernie Sanders has been in his stubborn morality. His record is not flawless, but his transparency reads like a book. In fact, you could read his book, Outsider in the White House, which pretty much explains exactly who he is, what he believes in and how his voice hasn’t changed for 30 years. Bernie’s long career as a public servant in Vermont has not inspired tomes of intellectual backlash from thinkers around the world who are stopping everything they are doing to write essays and books about how bad of a person he is.
The same cannot be said of Hillary.